If the deal goes through, this could help Facebook bolster its ad businesses -- on and off the social-networking site.
Facebook, always looking for ways to help advertisers get more out of the social network, is reportedly getting close to inking a deal to buy Microsoft's Atlas advertising platform. News of the discussions surfaced in December, but according to a report in Ad Age, the agreement could come as early as next week.
The price, according to the report, is expected to be less than $100 million. Spokespeople for both companies declined to comment.
Microsoft's Atlas Solutions is an ad-serving product that helps advertisers buy and manage ads. The software giant acquired the business as part of its $6 billion acquisition of aQuantive in 2007, which was Microsoft's largest acquisition to date.
Microsoft, which ended up writing off most of the acquisition costs, has reportedly been trying to sell Atlas for a while. Most recently, it was in talks with AppNexus, a New York-based ad company.
Advertisers and ad agencies use Atlas to place ads on Web sites and to measure the performance of their Web advertising. Big brands such as AT&T have used Atlas to serve and track online ad campaigns. But the business has lost share in recent years as customers have opted for rivals. Atlas competes directly with DoubleClick, which Google purchased for $3.1 billion just before Microsoft acquired aQuantive.
Buying Atlas seems like a shrewd move for Facebook, giving the social network a way to compete with Google's DoubleClick without building a rival product from scratch. This could also show that Facebook is on its way to building out a third-party ad network, which seems inevitable and a potentially big money maker. So many sites are tied to Facebook through Facebook Connect that serving up display ads to sites outside Facebook's walls is a logical way to expand its business without cluttering up Facebook itself with more ads.
Through Atlas, Microsoft offers a range of tools that help advertisers design campaigns across Web sites and on search. Buying Atlas seems even more logical given that Facebook in January rolled out its social search product, called Graph Search, to a small number of users. Altlas also helps brands collect and translate data in a way that helps them measure the effectiveness of their campaigns.